Washington The former spokesman for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr was acquitted Friday in a contempt of court case in which he was accused of leaking information about the investigation of President Clinton and trying to hide his role.
The former spokesman, Charles Bakaly III, was cleared by Norma Holloway Johnson, chief judge of the U.S. District Court. She had initiated the case after Clinton's lawyer, David Kendall, filed a complaint.
"Even if some of his statements are misleading by their negative implication that Mr. Bakaly was not a source of information that he in fact supplied or confirmed, such a finding does not provide a sufficient basis for a criminal contempt conviction for making false statements," Johnson wrote in a 50-page ruling.
Reached at home, Bakaly said, "I feel a lot better than I have in a year and a half."
"I got a chance in this trial, finally, to talk directly to the judge and have her see me and judge my credibility," he said. "I'm just going to move forward."
The Justice Department issued a statement saying it "appreciates the full cooperation that it received from the Office of Independent Counsel." And independent counsel Robert Ray said his office "accepts the judgment of the court."
Johnson conducted a six-day nonjury trial of Bakaly in July. The Justice Department, which had declined to indict Bakaly, served as prosecutor at Johnson's request.
Bakaly was charged with misleading Johnson in a February 1999 court submission that denied leaking material to The New York Times while Starr was investigating Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. If convicted, Bakaly could have faced up to six months in prison.
The judge had to decide whether Bakaly misled her court when he denied being the source quoted in a Times article that appeared Jan. 31, 1999, in the midst of Clinton's impeachment trial. It said Starr had decided that a sitting president could be indicted.
"The defendant was untruthful with many falsehoods and lies," Justice Department prosecutor Alan Gershel said in his closing argument. "This lie is built on a house of cards. One lie begets another lie. At the end of the day, it all falls apart."
Gershel contended Bakaly initially tried to hide his role from Starr's investigators and the court, but later changed his story and admitted he provided some information for the article.